Office of the President
Keynote Address: International Association for Continuing Higher Education (Oct 30, 2005)
Kevin P. Reilly, President, University of Wisconsin System
October 30, 2005
Thank you, John, for that kind introduction. I can assure you all that Chancellor Wiley is an exceptional host, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time here in Madison — 30 square miles surrounded by reality.
It is a great pleasure to join you all for this annual meeting of the International Association of Continuing Higher Education. I especially want to acknowledge the program co-chairs, Chris Dougherty of Rutgers, and Roxanne Gonzales of Park University. They have done a great job lining up some terrific sessions and speakers. I also want to thank Roger MacLean, our Associate Dean of the Division of Continuing Studies at UW-Madison. He’s been in charge of Registration, and of ensuring you get the warmest Wisconsin welcome on this picturesque October day.
I thought it might be important, as your opening speaker, to acclimate you to Wisconsin, especially for those of you who have not had the pleasure of visiting our state before. It is important that after this experience, you learn how to recognize a Wisconsin native if you run across one. A Wisconsin native:
- Defines summer as three months of bad sledding;
- Refers to the Green Bay Packers as "We" (even when they are not winning games);
- Knows what cow-tipping is (and if you don’t, ask Roger during the break);
- Knows that a "brat" is something you eat;
- Considers the opening of deer-hunting season an official state holiday;
- Can actually pronounce and spell the cities "Oconomowoc" and "Menomonie" and
- Can define the "Wisconsin Idea."
The latter definition brings me to a more serious topic, and the title of my talk this afternoon: "Does the Wisconsin Idea have legs?" The answer is yes… Crazylegs… Hirsch!
Around the nation — and, indeed, around the world — Wisconsin is known for many things. Perhaps, cheese, first and foremost, followed by the Green Bay Packers, Bucky Badger, and Harley Davidson motorcycles. And, perhaps, Halloween — the celebration, as opposed to the John Carpenter movies. But there are other Wisconsin bragging points. This state has been the birthplace of such important societal advances as public radio, Worker’s Compensation, Social Security, stem cell research, gene synthesis, and welfare reform, to name a few. All of these, I am proud to say, are products of this great University of Wisconsin System, and its partnership with the state of Wisconsin.
And all of these advances stemmed from another important, and distinguishing, feature of the state: the Wisconsin Idea.
Simply stated, the Wisconsin Idea holds that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state – and in this modern era, indeed, the boundaries of the world. It grows out of a century-long commitment to serving the people of the state through the teaching, research, and public service of the university’s faculty and staff – and a major part of that commitment has been continuing education.
As early as 1860, Wisconsin University, (as it was then known), was sending university professors to deliver lecture series to teachers statewide. In 1885, the university committed $5,000 for a lecture series to farmers, so the roots of this program grow very deep in Wisconsin soil, if you’ll pardon the pun.
And, since 1917, the University of Wisconsin has had its Extension Division to develop programs that would apply the theory and research of university faculty to the real problems and needs of the state’s communities. Unlike other extension services implemented at that time, however, the programs at UW were not organized around traditional disciplines, but around the educational needs of adult citizens.
We are proud to note that this approach has inspired many similar programs throughout the nation and the world. It has often been imitated, but never exactly duplicated. It has come to be known as "The Wisconsin Idea."
So, back to my question for today: "Does the Wisconsin Idea still have legs?" Given today’s changing technology, teaching and learning styles, and workforce needs, is the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea still compelling – not only in this state and this nation, but around the world?
Well, I strongly believe that it is. In fact, I think it is more compelling today than it has been since the GI Bill, and the age of Sputnik, both of which led to a transformation of higher education in this country, and built the great public campuses we enjoy today.
You’ve all heard it said that in today’s world, knowledge doubles about every five years. A college degree, in today’s work environment, is what a high-school diploma was two generations ago. Our corporations are increasingly global, and rapidly developing countries, like China and India, are investing vast resources in educating their people. In today’s world, the Wisconsin Idea is more vital than ever.
In the United States, roughly one in four citizens has a bachelor’s degree or higher. Another seven percent have an associate’s degree.
Roughly 16 million people are enrolled in some higher education institution in the United States, and it will not surprise this audience to know that fewer than 45 percent are age 21 or younger — quite a contrast to our stereotypical impressions of the college student experience… quite a contrast to the actual college experience of most policymakers in our nation today.
In fact, it’s now the college with the highest enrollment in the nation is Miami Dade in Florida, where the average student age is 27 years old.
In many professions, continuing education is becoming a necessity, rather than a luxury. As the workforce grows more sophisticated, it is imperative that we recapture the 20 percent of our nation’s population who have some college education, but never completed their degrees. And as the baby boomers retire, many are reinventing themselves, returning to school to take up a new profession, or simply to fuel their passions for things they enjoy.
We must prepare for an even larger tidal wave of demand. You see all these trends, and needs, every day in your work, and they are reflected elsewhere in the world as well.
But there is a paradox here. As demand for higher education rises, public investment is falling, and this presents a sobering challenge. I will say more about this a little later.
You heard Chancellor Wiley say a bit about some exciting continuing education programs at UW-Madison, our system’s flagship campus. I’d like to take just a few minutes to share with you some other promising initiatives we have underway here in Wisconsin.
Having served as chancellor of UW-Extension, I entered the UW System presidency with a special affinity for continuing education. I believe strongly that, as a university system, we have a responsibility to develop the human potential that lies in all the people of Wisconsin, and to do our part to advance Wisconsin’s competitive economic position, and the state’s quality of life.
We have given life to that commitment in a number of ways. One notable example was the UW’s leadership in sponsoring four major statewide economic summits, which mapped out a plan for the state’s economic development. We know that Wisconsin lies below the national average, both in the number of adults in our population who have college degrees, and in per capita income – two troubling economic indicators for our state. Each of the annual summits reinforced the message that we must ratchet up the number of state residents who hold college degrees. The summits also brought about strong support for helping working adults to continue their education, and to develop their skills.
Our 15 UW institutions, and our Board of Regents, took the first step toward addressing that problem in partnership with the Wisconsin Technical College System. A joint committee worked for more than a year to identify ways we can expand access to the baccalaureate degree, and better prepare our state’s workforce for the jobs of the future — the jobs of the "knowledge" economy.
First, we are creating a more seamless system of higher education in Wisconsin by making it easier to transfer credits between our technical colleges and four-year campuses.
Second, we have put much more effort into ensuring adult learners can easily access, via the web or toll-free help lines, the information they need to make informed choices about their educational goals.
In our own 26-campus system (we have 15 institutions, but 26 campuses), we’ve launched an innovative program at one of our campuses — UW-Oshkosh, just two hours north of here — which serves as a model for others. The Oshkosh "Graduation Project" identifies students who left that campus with just a few courses needed to graduate. Oshkosh advisers encourage these students to return to the institution to get the credits they need to complete their degrees. They also provide incentives and ongoing counsel and advice. UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Rick Wells reports that 36 students participated in last year’s pilot program, with 12 already graduating. More than 250 returning students are expected to participate in the program this year.
We also are integrating our freshman-sophomore colleges and statewide extension to better serve nontraditional students. In September, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago noted the changing demographics of Wisconsin’s future students, observing, quote, "the pool of potential college students will be increasingly older and ethnically diverse. The academic needs of this student population will be somewhat different, and universities will have to develop programs to meet these needs."
We intend, through these partnerships, to do just that.
Through our new Adult Student Initiative, UW-Extension and UW Colleges will be first points-of-contact in connecting adult students with the academic programs that are right for them. Utilizing statewide connections, and both physical and "virtual" locations, we are preparing to find, advise, and support students who are interested in pursuing a college degree, by building a recruiting network at the county level.
UW-Extension is also promoting "anytime, anywhere" education through its informational website, called "Distance Learning." We have also created many programs that allow place-bound students throughout the state to complete four-year degrees, working with their local UW two-year colleges. Our 13 two-year college now host more than 70 baccalaureate degrees on their campuses throughout the state.
UW-Extension serves as the state affiliate for the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service, helping employees of business, government, non-profits, and associations earn college credit for workplace learning. In fact, several of our campuses already work with adult students to offer credit for non-traditional learning experiences.
Finally, the Division of Continuing Studies at UW-Madison, and the Wisconsin Alumni Association, which is helping to host this conference, garnered a $100,000 grant to establish a Lifelong Learning Institute. The Institute will provide access to educational opportunities for adults, age 50 and older, in Madison and surrounding communities. Roger, I look forward to that day, long in the future, when I’ll qualify to use the services of you Lifelong Learning Institute.
These are just a few vivid examples of our pledge to support continuing education, an important part of our commitment to keeping the "Wisconsin Idea" alive, and relevant to the state — A Wisconsin Idea that has legs.
But there are obstacles in our path. Our state and national governments have been slow to recognize — and, more importantly, to adequately fund — the workforce development this nation will require if it is to remain competitive in the coming century.
When I look at the acronym for this organization – ACHE – I am painfully reminded of how underfunded our continuing education programs are, and how that must be affecting those of you here today. I commend your dedication and creativity – always doing more with less, striving to meet increasing demand, with fewer resources.
In fact, continuing education is too often seen as an area for "easy cuts" as public institutions weather financial hardships. I submit that this is a false savings — one that our states and our nation will come to regret, as our workforce grows less competitive, and our citizens less engaged.
The irony is that there is tremendous public support for higher education. That public support, however, has not translated into political support, and, in turn, it has not translated into public financial support. We are losing public funding to competing areas — corrections, K-12 education, medical care, even road building.
There is a looming crisis in public higher education funding, but it is, as yet, a crisis unrecognized by the public at large.
I am reminded of a kindergarten class in which the teacher asks her students to do a drawing. As she walks around the room, she quizzes the children on what they are portraying. One little girl is fiercely concentrating on her drawing of a figure, perched on a cloud.
"What are you drawing?" the teacher asks.
"God," the child replies.
"That’s pretty difficult," says the teacher, "since no one knows what God looks like."
The five-year old looks up, and answers: "Don’t worry, they will in a minute."
I’m afraid this nation will look up in a few years, and see the face of a higher education system that can no longer meet demand. I’m afraid they will see a public higher education system that educates the rich, and leaves the poor behind. A public higher education system that is wasting valuable resources on justifying itself to regulatory agencies, rather than putting its dollars in the classroom, and toward public service programs.
In talking with colleagues from abroad, I know that public higher education funding is reaching crisis proportions in other nations, too, from Germany to Australia.
And so, I leave you with a charge. Make sure that those you serve know how crucial state and federal support is to the services you provide for them. Where appropriate, urge them to proactively advocate for higher education funding with their elected representatives. Even in institutions where continuing education is self-funded, taxpayer support — whether of operating expenses or of financial aid — is critical to the institutional infrastructure that continuing education works off.
The nation’s colleges and universities, and higher education associations, are joining in a major effort this spring to raise awareness of the value of higher education to this nation. Too often, it is seen merely as a private good — hence, rising tuition and lower government subsidies. They propose to make the case that higher education — particularly continuing education — is good for society.
Sociological studies done over a long period of time at UW-Madison have shown conclusively that more-highly educated individuals lead healthier, happier lives; that they are more inclined toward civic engagement, are more philanthropic, and are far less of a burden on society. These are yet more reasons that supporting higher education, and continuing education, simply makes eminent economic sense.
In closing, I wish you an enjoyable and productive meeting over the coming days. I’m sure you will come away with many new ideas, and will have learned valuable new things, including what "cow tipping" is, and how to pronounce Oconomowoc!
I commend you on the fine and important work you are doing, both here, and back home. You can count on me, as president of the University of Wisconsin System, to continue to advocate for the importance of continuing education to the public, and to our elected officials across the land.
Yes, the Wisconsin Idea has legs. And it has arms, too. The arms and legs are yours — you and your continuing education colleagues are fulfilling the Wisconsin Idea in ways appropriate to your communities, and I thank you for those important efforts. With your commitment, we can make sure the Wisconsin Idea thrives, for the benefit of our children, and grandchildren, and for those in centuries to follow.
Thank you for listening today. I’d be happy to take a few questions.